Some things are worth waiting for — even a really late collection. Four months into the never-ending spring 2021 season that’s now barreling into pre-fall, Vera Wang showed a gem (or that’s how it looks in pictures; she didn’t do in-person appointments).
In an odd-duck/exquisite swan of a collection, Wang started with an ambitious premise, fusing ready-to-wear and bridal elements into a single, compelling narrative. Rtw-cum-bridal may not seem like a big whoop; designers have long incorporated a languid white crepe gown or saucy, flirty shift into their lineups, handed the model a nosegay and — voila! — here comes the bride. But such lovely commercialism isn’t Wang’s shtick, even if she bristles at suggestions that she’s not a commercial designer. “Kohl’s! Kohl’s! Kohl’s!” she’ll readily remind.
Point taken, but a different discussion. Wang views her runway (and now, her runway alternative) as more than a venue for parading variants on the pretty tried-and-true. She sees it as an experimental platform on which to challenge herself to do something new.
For Wang, it makes all the sense in the world that at some point, she would attempt an integration of the foundations of her work into a single, strong message. In fact, she’d long considered the notion, but the time never seemed right. While COVID-19 has presented endless challenges, working under lockdown restrictions gave her the freedom to go for it. “I didn’t have to go to a full bridal market,” she said, “and I didn’t have a full ready-to-market and show. It was kind of this free, nebulous thing that I felt.”
At the same time, the only type of presentation that felt appropriate was a low-key shoot. “I never think fashion is ridiculous, I never, ever think that,” Wang said. “But you have to be a bit aware of what’s going on in the rest of the world. I wanted to find my way, and this seemed like the perfect moment in terms of intimacy and expectation.”
Her mission was creative and strategic. “Often people see no connection between the two, and I thought, maybe it’s time to bring it together so that people see that it’s the same girl. She can be a tomboy and she can be extremely artsy. One doesn’t preclude the other.”
Therein lies the collection’s wonder — not to mention Wang’s distinct place in American fashion. She is unafraid to work artfully outside the lines, her meanderings leading to all sorts of places — romantic, dark, ethereal, edgy — always with a high-interest take on chic.
If there’s such a thing as voluptuous austerity, here Wang nailed it. She delivers an almost weird aura of restraint that’s not about the look of the clothes; there’s abundant extravagance in play. She started with the neutral palette she loves — black, white, gray, skin tones — adding in some red and blue in the unfussy florals she inaugurated for fall. While the masculine-feminine tension features most familiarly in a red floral frock coat over a tulle ball skirt, elsewhere she works it to a more challenging effect, the haute-sporty communion compelling in its dichotomy.
For example, one accent piece, a high-fashion “bubble accessory” — a big ring of ruched fabric — turns up in black tulle over a blue floral jacket and super short skirt, and in puffed-up black gazar over lean trousers with external tulle pockets.
The look book opens with two models standing face-to-face. They could be mirror images, only one wears a long, deftly gathered stretch of white chiffon over a bodysuit, and the other, a gown with a voluptuous cutaway skirt and seamless bustier bodice. Wang then quickly introduces the rtw element, in black wool shorts worn with an opera coat of sorts in white faille with dramatic bow sleeves that morph into a train. Precise white jackets are cut strapless or open in back, also over short black pieces. To one, she adds a tulle half-skirt in back. Throughout, tulle flourishes flirt with strict tailoring and black wool bodices while abundant, couture-esque sleeve treatments similarly counter the spare, sporty pieces beneath.
Yet it’s not all about separates. There are plenty of gowns, both full and linear. And one of the collection’s wonders is a little-nothing, really-something minidress made from hand-knotted glass pearls looping this way and that under an overlay of tulle.
Captivating — and not the stuff of Zoom fittings and sew-at-home, so Wang’s delayed time frame is understandable. As noted, some things are worth waiting for.